Three Auschwitz sign thieves plead guilty

Three out of the five men who police say stole the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign from Auschwitz have pleaded guilty and could face three years in jail.

By Jessica Elgot, March 10, 2010
The sign stolen from Auschwitz was recovered in three pieces

The sign stolen from Auschwitz was recovered in three pieces

Three men who stole and vandalised the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign from Auschwitz may face up to three years in jail after pleading guilty to the theft.

Five Polish men aged in their 20s and 30s were arrested by police when they recovered the 16-foot wrought-iron sign, which had been cut into three pieces.

Three of the men have pleaded guilty, said Boguslawa Marcinkowska, spokesperson of the Prosecutor’s Office in Krakow.

The prosecution have suggested prison terms between 18 months and three years.

Police believe that the men did not have any political or racial motive, and that they conducted the robbery at the behest of a Swedish buyer Anders Hoegstroem.

Mr Hoegstroem, 34, is being held in custody in Sweden, awaiting extradition to Poland.

Mr Hoegstroem founded and led the Swedish neo-Nazi group National Socialist Front in the 1990s, but quit the group and has since spoken out against the extreme right.

Swedish newspapers have reported conflicting interviews with Mr Hoegstroem, one where he apparently confesses to the crime and another where he claims he was the one who tried to stop the theft.

The original sign is in the process of being repaired but Auschwitz museum officials believe it may be too frail to withstand the severe weather conditions of northern Poland.The replica which currently hangs above the gate could be made permanent.

Last updated: 3:39pm, March 11 2010